Papua New Guinea - Overview

The DRM system in PNG is underpinned by the National Disaster Management Act (DMA) 1984. This was amended once in 1997 but is widely regarded as being in need of reform. It is currently under review. The Emergency Act 1979 provides for a declaration of National Emergency. Specific legislation is often enacted to give authority or extra “emergency” powers to particular agencies or areas.


DRM policy is the responsibility of the Minister for Defence. The DMA establishes the National Disaster Committee (NDC) to operationalise Disaster Policy. This institution comprises the Heads of the Departments of Finance, Health, Defence, Provincial and Local Government Affairs and Transport and Infrastructure, in addition to the Police Commissioner, the Commander of the Defence Force and the Secretary Department of Prime Minister and NEC. The Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs participates when relevant matters are under discussion while the Committee also has the power to appoint any other relevant person to its membership.


The Committee is obliged to meet at least two times a year and is responsible for both the National Emergency Plan and the guidelines for provincial disaster plans. In addition, it has overall responsibility for general preparedness provisions including public awareness of natural hazards and the stockpiling of relief supplies. In the event of a disaster event the NDC is responsible for advising the NEC on declarations of emergency, international relief requirements and taking decisions in relation to the provision of national funding for emergency relief.


Alongside the NDC, the DMA provides for the creation of Provincial Disaster Committees. This is intended to provide a localised approach to DRR and DRM. The membership of the Provincial Disaster Committee (PDC) mirrors that of the NDC and includes the Head of the Provincial Administration as Chairman, the Provincial Police Commander, the Provincial Works Manager (or City Engineer), the Provincial Health Officer, the Officer-In-Charge of Provincial Affairs, the Officer-In-Charge of Delegated Functions and the provincial Disaster Coordinator. The PDCs provide advice to the Governor to ensure that development plans for the province take into account hazards prone to the Province and to prepare contingency plans and supervise the state of preparedness for emergencies in the Province (including public awareness and staff training). Despite the requirements of the Act, PDC’s do not appear to have been established nationally, with only four of 19 “ordinary” provinces reported having operational disaster management arrangements in 2016. None of these plans have been tested.


The National Disaster Centre operates under a Director to coordinate disaster response and surveillance. Outside a disaster event, its role is primarily risk management, awareness and training. In the event of a disaster it co-ordinates response operations. These two roles are undertaken by assistant directors. Research indicates that the NDC’s role has been restricted through a lack of budget, staff and, at times, government support. PNG’s defence force also plays a significant role in DRM in PNG. The National Executive Council, though the Head of State may require the Defence Force or a part of the Defence Force to assist an Emergency Controller during a National Emergency. Additional staffing required by the National Disaster Centre are provided by the Defence Force.


In Bougainville, Disaster Management is the responsibility of the Minister for Community Government. A Disaster Coordination Office sits within this Department. It is not clear how Bougainville’s autonomous government interacts with the national system around DRM, if at all.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) operates a modified “Westminster” form of parliamentary democracy under a written constitution dating from independence in 1975. The constitution recognises the British Monarch (styled as the Queen of New Guinea) as the Head of State. In practice, the authority of the Head of State (which is almost exclusively ceremonial) is undertaken by the Governor General. This position is elected by Parliament by a two-thirds majority (although formally appointed by the British Monarch).


The head of government is the Prime Minister, appointed by the unicameral Parliament by simple majority. The Parliament is elected through 89 “open” and 22 provincial electorates. Although political parties are a feature of PNG politics, they are relatively weak with fluid membership and policies. Governing coalitions are therefore often unstable and reflect personal alliances. Once appointed, the Prime Minister appoints Ministers to the National Executive Council (the cabinet) which operates as the political executive of the country. The portfolios and size of the NEC is within the discretion of the Prime Minister and currently comprises 34 members. Presently, national disaster responsibilities reside under the portfolio of the Minister for Defence i.e. the National Disaster Centre reports to the Minister of Defence.


Papua New Guinea is divided into twenty-two provinces and one National Capital District. In addition, the autonomous region of Bougainville operates under a special statue. Since 1995 the 22 “ordinary” Provinces have been governed by the Provincial Member of Parliament who is appointed as the Provincial Governor. When a provincial MP is appointed to a national ministry, another “open” constituency MP from within the Province is appointed governor. A similar model applies to the National Capital District (centred on Port Moresby), although the Governor acts alongside the National Capital District Commission which comprises other local MPs, representatives and officials.


Under the 1997 agreement which concluded the Bougainville conflict, Bougainville is governed under its own constitution. The Bougainville President is directly elected but the Executive Council is appointed partially by the President alone (six members) and partially through the President choosing from regional lists provided by regional Members of Parliament. A further member is appointed by female members of the Bougainville Parliament. Bougainville enjoys significant autonomy across a wide range of matters, including natural disasters. The peace agreement (and the Bougainville Constitution) require a referendum on independence to be held before 2020. At the time of writing, this is scheduled for November 2019.


In both PNG and Bougainville, a level of local government operates below the province. This consists of elected councils. It is largely funded from national budget transfers. In both cases, traditional customary governance continues to play a significant role at the local level. In 2014, the O’Neil Government introduced District Development Authorities (DDAs). These sit between Provincial Government and the Local Levels Governments (LLGs). DDAs have responsibility, inter alia, for setting LLG budgets, local service delivery and infrastructure development.